Fifty years from now, I predict, all the controversy over the rights of gay people to marry, to serve in the military, to be protected from bullying and harassment — in short, to live their lives like other ordinary Americans — will seem as distant (and, to the more progressive younger generation, as vaguely incomprehensible) as the struggles over racial equality and a woman’s right to vote. I most likely won’t be around to see this, of course, but everything I know about how social and political change occurs in this country says that fear and prejudice will eventually give way to, well, reality.
But we’re not there yet. And one has to look only at the ongoing harassment of gay students in public schools and colleges to see how far we have to go. For the current issue of ASBJ, I wrote an update about this harassment and what schools are, and are not, doing about it. The occasion was a tragic one: the suicides of at least six LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students within the first month of school.
Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has taken an important step, telling districts that they could lose federal funds if they don’t take steps to protect gay students.
“A school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring,” the department said in a recent letter to schools.
My story ends with a heartfelt plea from Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, for school board members to look beyond the current bitter politics of the issue and work to end the harassment.
“We are losing wonderful kids,” says Rader, who has a transgendered child in college. “And we owe those who are living more than a life of shame and sadness.”
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor